Keep your lamps trimmed and burning, keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
keep your lamps trimmed and burning, for the time is drawing nigh.
Refrain: Children, don't grow weary, children, don't grow weary, children, don't grow weary, for the time is drawing nigh. (African American Spiritual)
Advent is here: that season of waiting and waiting and waiting. Being raised in a non-denominational church, all I knew of Advent was the great fun of having a chocolate Advent calendar and reading a little bit of the nativity story each night before bed. When I became a theology major in college, I discovered the true power of the liturgical season of Advent.
Advent rituals, with the richness of their symbols, colors, scripture, hymns, and candles, take us on a journey together each year. Our hopes, fears, and longing hearts await the redemption that comes from God alone, who enters our world to turn everything on its head until all wrongs are made right and God is all in all.
We begin again at the beginning with the Season of Advent each year to better live into the tension that while we and the world have already been delivered, our and the world’s full and final deliverance is still to come.
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, imprisoned and killed for his resistance to Nazi Germany, wrote from his prison cell that: “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes - and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.” In this way, Advent is not for the faith of heart.
When we ask Jesus to come into our lives at Advent, what we are really awaiting is full and deep change in society and ourselves, until things are on earth as in heaven. When we ask Jesus to come, God’s advent asks us to prepare the way—to yearn and work—for tangible structural and relational change.
When we light the first candle for HOPE during Advent, we are called to remember the voice and vision of the prophets and peoples who longed for a Savior and leader who would ease their suffering, and bring justice and well-being to their nations and communities. They waited in hope.
Too often, I wait in hopelessness—a symptom of my privileged place in life. Those of us who are well off and at ease have the luxury of feeling despair. It’s easy to look around at our dysfunctional politics, endemic racism, the unbalanced distribution of wealth, and climate change and become overwhelmed . . . and then disengaged. But those who are oppressed or connected intimately with systemic suffering have the greatest capacity—and sense the most urgency—for hope and for compassion.
With clear-eyed hope, may we be led this Advent season into a repentance that so transforms our hearts that we learn anew how to really participate in God’s inbreaking kingdom here and now. Amen.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.